Author: Aditya Ganjoo
I was lingering at the third last rung of an approximately ten metre tall Jacob’s ladder. Just one more rung to climb for transitioning to the other side for descending. I know that my fear of heights is a bit on a higher side than normal. So, at the third last rung, I was frozen. My legs were trembling. This is not doable I thought. Should I turn back? I looked down. A swarm of people was coming aggressively towards the top. Going down seems difficult. But if I fall, I’ll avalanche a few more people. It will get dirty. I cannot afford to fall!
“You seem to have stuck here” a man just below me said jokingly, obviously a little frustrated because my indecision was restricting his climb. I looked down the other side. Estimated my trajectory if I fall. It was not encouraging, So, I ignored it. People all around me – younger, older, men, women – everyone was climbing and descending, and their combined movement was shaking the ladder vigorously. I have to make a decision. And there is only one decision that will not make me ashamed! The decision became obvious. I force stopped my thoughts, climbed one more rung, waved one leg to the other side, transitioned, and started descending. Gradually, I reached the ground. I did it!
This was the scene at Devil’s Circuit, Noida, India. Devil’s Circuit is a mostly non-competitive event where participants have to pass through a number of obstacles to complete the course. This time, I decided to participate. And doing so made me realise how frequently we pass through the 3S phases: Sorrow – Struggle – Satisfaction. Never heard of it? Sure, because I just made it up! Allow me to explain.
A few years back, I was rafting in Rishikesh – a small town in the Himalayas, popularly known as the adventure capital of India. During the break, one could climb to a designated cliff, and under the guidance of the instructor, jump straight into the river Ganga from around ten metre height. The water is deep, and the designated spot of dive is not rocky. I was wearing my life-jacket and helmet. No reason to be afraid. But, for an urban dweller like me, logic did not work. The mere thought of diving was, indeed, terrifying.
Along with the crowd, I climbed the cliff, step by step. The closer I came to the cliff, the heavier each step became.
I will not jump. Just going with the crowd!
Then I reached the top. It was my turn.
The instructor briefed me. I nodded. Looked into the water! I knew I was damned!
From my experience, I knew that if I thought about it, I wouldn’t jump.
But… it’s so deep! I have never done this before.
Don’t think about it
I don’t even know how to fall…
The instructor yelled the countdown… three… two… one…
I jumped. Instantly regretted it.
One second in the air was a long period of sorrow. For every bit of it, I cursed myself for jumping. I am sure that my face must have looked funny!
I hit the water. I felt it touching my legs, torso, and head. Feet nowhere near any firm ground. Head deep under the bulk. I struggled hard to prevent myself from drowning, but whatever was happening didn’t make any sense.
Where the hell is the lifeguard!
Not even a second later, the river had pushed me up. My head came over the surface, and I breathed. I could see the cliff up there. I had done it! A feeling of satisfaction overwhelmed me!
We all have been in the situation where the first step is the most difficult one. In fact, the first step is the only difficult step, because everything after it requires a lot less cognitive effort – we are just not left with options. If we have already jumped, we can’t do anything but fall and struggle to survive – There is just no other option! It’s the first step where we have to make a decision – where thinking makes the act difficult. For the intellectual species of ours, this sounds contradictory. But, we all know how true it is. When Tom Cruise in TopGun Maverick says “Don’t think, just do” we cheer! The Bollywood version “Jo hoga dekha jaayega” (whatever happens shall be dealt with) has been a popular idiom in India for decades. Isn’t that wonderful how much we can achieve by not thinking sometimes?
While my mention above has been about the fear from physical challenges, the same philosophy may be applied to fear from many non-physical situations:
Want to speak in public?
Just raise your hand when the situation comes. You’ll curse yourself at every step you take towards the stage, when you are called. And you might struggle to make a coherent speech. You’ll have no option! But you’ll complete the task you were afraid of!
Want to be more responsible?
Stand up when they call for volunteers! If you are called, you’ll have to do what it takes.
Fed up with a bully?
Stand-up against him the next time he acts. You might get punched in the face. Take the risk.
I saw an excellent application of this philosophy at Devil’s Circuit. A father was running the course with his teenage daughter. One of the obstacles required participants to take a leap from an elevated platform, ring a bell suspended at some distance, and subsequently fall into a ditch filled with water, some twenty feet below. The girl was afraid. Father said to her “Don’t look at the water! Look at the bell. And leap” She did it. I don’t recall if I heard the bell ring, but it, certainly, does not matter.
An alternate approach towards taking the first step could be to visualise the scenario multiple times in the head. You do it so many times, that you get used to it, and thus, not afraid. What do you think about it?